‘Heavy odor’ that prompted downtown SLO evacuations was oil spill, officials say

A “heavy odor” in downtown San Luis Obispo that caused evacuations and blocked traffic for about an hour Tuesday was determined to be a hydraulic oil spill.

San Luis Obispo Fire Department officials and The Gas Company spent much of the morning trying to identify the source of the smell that forced customers and employees at stores such as Sephora, Banana Republic and Pottery Barn to temporarily evacuate.

The incident also caused evacuations at the San Luis Obispo County Department of Planning and Building office, the county courthouse and other neighboring buildings and businesses.

The odor, initially believed to be a natural gas leak, was reported at about 10 a.m. near the corner of Monterey and Osos streets, said Keith Aggson, San Luis Obispo fire chief.

“What we did discover adjacent to the Pottery Barn’s loading area is what appeared to be some type of heavy hydraulic fluid, a two-foot puddle,” Aggson said in a Facebook post. “It was emitting a very strong odor. ... We were immediately able to downgrade the situation and determine this was not a hazard and clean up the spill.”

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San Luis Obispo firefighters respond to a report of a “heavy odor” in downtown San Luis Obispo on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. The smell was determined to be a hydraulic oil leak. Nick Wilson nwilson@thetribunenews.com

The smell entered the building through the open doors of Pottery Barn, Aggson said.

Nearby, Sephora beauty store manager Summer Pezzi said that she and others were tending to the shop Tuesday morning when the air conditioning seemed to go out and they felt a waft of hotter air.

“It felt weird,” Pezz said. “It wasn’t long after that the firefighters came and told it we had to evacuate.”

Pezzi said she and other employees went to the ground floor of the business complex, part of the San Luis Obispo Collection shopping center, and stood outside Banana Republic, where she said Banana Republic employees felt the effects.

“The employees said it was really overwhelming to the point where they were coughing and feeling strange,” Pezzi said. “So, we decided to move away from that area.”

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Officials from The Gas Company stand near the site of a hydraulic oil spill at Osos and Monterey streets in downtown San Luis Obispo on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Nick Wilson nwilson@thetribunenews.com

Evacuations and shelter-in-place orders were issued, according to a tweet by the San Luis Obispo Fire Department around 10:50 a.m. Tuesday.

But by 11:40 a.m., many of the businesses, including Pottery Barn and Sephora, had re-opened.

Aggson said that in the case of an actual natural gas leak, which can be determined by a “rotten egg smell,” the public should evacuate buildings immediately and call 911.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.
Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.